Supporting Our Campers
SUPPORTING CAMPERS WITH MENTAL HEALTH AND BEHAVIORAL ISSUES
It is the policy of Camp Ramah in New England to support, to the extent possible, campers with mental health and behavioral issues so they may have a successful summer. We aspire to create a camp community that is as inclusive and welcoming. The Torah states the thirteen attributes of God which starts, “Adonai, Adonai El Rachum V’Chanun” – “The Lord, The Lord, God, compassionate and gracious.” This idea of compassion and kindness are qualities that we try to put into practice in our Ramah community. Even though there are times when a camper cannot remain at camp, we do our best to always treat him/her with compassion and kindness.
While we strive to be an inclusive camp, there can be some limiting factors that play a role in our decision-making process as to who we can support: the safety of every camper, the impact on the broader community, and our limited resources. Ultimately, the decision about whether any camper may enroll, and remain, at camp is at the sole discretion of the CEO of Camp Ramah New England in consultation with the camper care team and medical staff. Below we attempt to outline our approach to these issues which helps to inform our decision making, while recognizing each situation is unique and not all situations can be possibly or comprehensively addressed in a short document such as this.
- Our camper care team includes the CEO, our Director of Camper Care, senior staff, Yoatzot (Parent Liaisons) and consulting psychologist. Our yoatzot are often educators or social workers who do not act as therapists, rather as resources to support our campers and staff, helping to understand, guide, support and comfort our campers. Our consulting psychologist has been a part of our team for many years and helps to evaluate and develop plans as needed for campers, both before and during the summer. Our yoatzot help to implement these plans during the summer and provide appropriate training to our staff. While we do not have a therapist on staff in season, we do facilitate connecting campers with their therapists back home.
- Our counselors are wonderful people who mostly grew up at camp or are emissaries from Israel between the ages of 18-21. They receive much training during staff week and regularly during the summer. While taking care of campers is their primary concern, they are not trained as therapists and do not accompany campers at every moment of the day.
- Understanding the scope of our resources informs our decisions regarding which campers we may successfully support.
- In evaluating if our resources may help a camper be successful, we often focus on a camper’s well-being, their history and any recent trends in their mental or behavioral status. Factors such as 1) if overall they are getting “better” or “worse”, 2) if a significant event occurred in the last month, few months or year, or 3) if a camp setting is similar or dissimilar to other situations which may cause them stress. These are all important pieces of information that help us decide whether we can develop a viable plan for the current summer, or if it makes sense to wait a year or longer so that a camper can be successful at camp. In any viable plan we must account for times when a camper is likely to be on their own, unaccompanied by their counselor (as in “free time), which may be the most stressful or least supervised, and where we expect campers to behave safely and appropriately. We are unable to provide 1:1 support at camp in an ongoing way throughout the summer. Campers are mostly supervised, though there are times during the day when they are on their own.
- In evaluating what resources are available and the success of any potential plan, we also balance the impact on the broader community – the tzrif (bunk), the edah (division/age-group) and entire machane (camp). This of course includes the amount of time and attention a counselor must give to an individual camper but goes well beyond that. The kehillah (community) we create at Camp Ramah New England is very close and our campers often want to help or be a confidante for others in times of stress, but there are times when the help provided or sought is more than what is reasonable to expect from a peer.
PLANNING FOR THE SUMMER
- In order for Camp Ramah New England to partner with parents in a collaborative way to evaluate whether a successful plan may be developed, we ask that parents inform the CEO and/or the Director of Camper Care about any significant mental health or behavioral issues as soon as possible, and certainly before the summer begins. We ask that parents always err on the side of disclosure. Once the season has begun, and a significant undisclosed issue presents, it is highly unlikely that a camper can be accommodated in a successful manner without a plan in place.
- When significant mental health or behavioral issues are disclosed before the summer, we will work with the camper’s family, pediatrician, and their existing mental health team to evaluate if camp is the right setting for this summer. Again, our focus will be on the safety of the camper, the impact on the broader community, and whether the parents, mental health team, camper and staff reasonably believe, given our resources, that we can develop a plan that will ensure a successful summer.
- Many plans involve one or more accommodations and here are some examples of common ones that we often provide, depending on our resources:
- Providing one-on-one support for up to an hour a day for multiple days although not every day of a session. We can also provide more intense support for a shorter period of days if an acute issue is clearly subsiding.
- Limited schedule modifications of up to an hour a day to increase “down time.”
- Camper may speak/video chat with pre-existing therapist during the session.
HOW WE MAY HANDLE PARTICULAR SITUATIONS
Recognizing that each camper’s needs are unique, we look for indications that an individual camper will be successful in handling the vast majority of the camp’s day to day programming. When a camper cannot function in a high percentage of the camp’s programs and/or needs intensive one-on-one support to navigate the basic day, our resources may be unable to accommodate such a camper. Moreover, the way in which a particular situation has been handled in the past will likely inform, but not determine, how a similar situation will be handled today or at some point in the future.
Below you will find some “common” mental health issues and/ symptoms and an explanation of how the Camp Ramah New England staff has approached them in the past.
- Homesickness: It is important that campers want to come to camp, and we do expect some homesickness that in our experience, mostly passes within a week. We expect that some campers may need a lot of support in the first few days. However, we hope to see a positive arc of improvement. If you are concerned about this, please share with us what your child’s bedtime routine usually entails at home, as well as the things that work well to comfort your child. Additionally, it can be helpful to prepare your child by letting them know that it is okay to have a great time at camp, and also miss home at the same time. One potential indicator of how your child will do being away at camp is how they react to sleepovers with friends or family.
- Bullying: This is never acceptable at camp and we define it as using one’s social and/or physical power to target someone else repeatedly. Children can be mean or have arguments or fight without it being bullying. All of these behaviors will be addressed while keeping in mind that some “mean” behavior can also be age-appropriate misbehavior. Please let us know before camp if you have concerns regarding this so we may partner with you to develop a successful plan for the summer.
- Cliques: This is a typical way that children socialize, and we expect that they will want to spend more time with people with whom they feel closer to than others. However, children need to understand that sometimes this can cross the line into mean or exclusionary behavior. For example, we view bunk time as a time for everyone to be together rather than in smaller groups, whereas during “free time” smaller groups are acceptable. That being said, cliques can never target one person for exclusion since that constitutes bullying. Please let us know before camp if you have concerns regarding this so we may partner with you to develop a successful plan.
- Anxiety or Panic Attacks: Many, if not most cases of campers with anxiety can be successfully managed at camp. Disclosing these issues to Camp Ramah New England prior to the start of camp allows our camper care team to work with our staff to prepare them to respond as successfully as possible. When a camper cannot function in the vast majority of our camp programs or needs intensive one-on-one support to navigate the basic day, our resources may be unable to accommodate this camper.
- Depression: Many, if not most, cases of campers with depression can be successfully managed at camp. Disclosing these issues to Camp Ramah New England prior to the start of camp allows our camper care team to work with our staff to prepare them to respond as successfully as possible. When a camper cannot function in the vast majority of our camp programs or needs intensive one-on-one support to navigate the basic day, our resources may be unable to accommodate this camper. When a camper’s mental health team at home and/or the staff at camp do not feel that a camper will be safe in the least supervised of times, our resources will be unable to accommodate a camper.
- Suicidal Ideation: Campers who express serious thoughts about hurting themselves usually cannot be accommodated at camp. The camper’s mental health team at home and the staff at camp must feel that a camper will be safe in the least supervised of times, as our counselors do not have their “eyes” on each camper at all times. Campers who have some history of suicidal ideation or express more general thoughts, may be able to be accommodated at camp, and our evaluation will depend primarily on our resources and whether the camper is impacting the well-being of other campers in the tzrif or edah.
- Cutting: Campers may not cut at camp. Disclosing any history of cutting to Camp Ramah New England is essential to the camper’s success during the summer. Recognizing there are different “types” of cutting with different risks, close consultation between the camper’s mental health team at home and the staff at camp is essential before camp to ensure that camp is a good choice for the camper. Although we do not have a zero-tolerance policy regarding cutting behavior, since a camper may not be sent home immediately, we do have a very low tolerance, especially given the evidence that cutting may “spread” or otherwise impact the well-being of other campers in the tzrif or edah.
- Eating Disorders: Disclosing a history of eating disorders before the summer to Camp Ramah New England is essential to helping campers with eating disorders have a successful camp experience. While we are unable to monitor individual campers’ food consumption on a meal-by-meal basis, we can provide weekly weigh-ins and access to speaking/video chatting with a therapist. As always, we must consider the well-being of other campers in the tzrif or edah, since behaviors associated with eating disorders may at times “spread” to other campers.
- A.D.H.D.: Many, if not most cases of campers with A.D.H.D. can be successfully managed at camp. Disclosing an A.D.H.D. diagnosis and discussing with camp staff before the summer will enable us to work with you and your child’s support team, to plan for a successful summer at camp. Timely assessment will also allow us to decide which of our resources to utilize to support your camper including whether our inclusion program is indicated.
Writing a document which addresses our policies for the situations addressed above is very hard, as we cannot possibly address every type of issue that arises or the nuances that exist.
We take the care and safety of our campers very seriously as our guiding principles and are always open to discussing any of the above, or other, issues with our families. It is our goal to make camp successful for as many children as possible, and we are always disappointed when we cannot accommodate a camper’s needs. These situations are all highly personal, private and complicated, and while you may hear rumors about a situation(s) at camp, please realize you may not be hearing an accurate or complete story, and CRNE cannot respond as these matters are confidential. Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions or concerns.
The policies outlined above are not intended to form or replace any part of the Contract of Enrollment between a camper’s parent(s) and Camp Ramah New England, and where the above policies conflict with the Contract of Enrollment, the latter shall govern. The policies outlined above should not be considered, in any way, to limit the sole discretion of the CEO regarding the enrollment status of any camper.